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  • This Old House
    Page 1 of 2

    by Flora Mitidiero Raehl

    A house renovation is difficult to live through even under the best of circumstances, like being able to speak the same language as your contractor and being on the same continent while the renovation is taking place. Imagine navigating a renovation going on in Italy while I'm here in Chicago - that is what is going on in my life right now.

    For you to fully appreciate this situation though, I'm going to have to backtrack a little bit. My father was born in a very small mountain town in the toe of Italy called Alessandria del Carretto. It is by far one of the most serene and beautiful places I have ever seen. It is a remote mountain village with approximately 550 residents, about 1000 meters above sea level and is the closest town to the region's tallest mountain and national park, Il Polino.

    Dad came to America when he was 21 years old, married an American-Italian girl, became an American citizen in the 1970's and is now 77, so even though he considers Italy "his" country, he's lived in America longer than he did in Italy, and so over the years many of his habits have become Americanized. In my dad's mind, if you have to live in America you might as well reap all the benefits that this country has to offer. If it gets too hot outside, the air conditioner goes on, if it gets too cold outside, heat immediately warms the entire house, not to mention that if you have indoor plumbing why not take two or three showers a day!

    You see, the house that he grew up in consists of three small rooms — one bedroom where he and his parents slept, a dining room which houses an additional twin size bed where his brother slept, a kitchen where, at the end of every day, my aunt would roll out the portable cot to sleep, and a bathroom — sort of. There's a fireplace in the kitchen which was originally used for cooking and still is the only source of heat for the entire house. Many years ago a gas stove was installed but it's powered by a propane tank, much like what we use for an outdoor gas grill, a dorm size refrigerator that my parents bought in 1971 and a sink that is the perfect height if a seven year old is doing the dishes (dear family and friends, no short jokes about me please). It's all very compact, cozy and functional for just a few people, but the fact that five people lived for years in small, antiquated three room house amazes me.

    If you've been following along, you'll now realize that I've left out two key elements about this house: the bathroom and hot water. Believe it or not, there is NO hot water in this house, no tub, no shower and the only way to "flush" is to pour a bucket of water into the commode. The town of Alessandria del Carretto was established sometime in the 1600's and I'd lay bets on the fact that my dad's childhood home is one of the originals, which leads me back to renovating from afar. Last year when my dad, my son Tom and I were in Alessandria, we of course stayed in dad's house but had to rely on family and close friends for showers and, luckily for us, these people live close by, have modernized their facilities, and were gracious enough to open their homes to us for these most basic of needs. I wouldn't necessarily consider myself high maintenance but I do enjoy a shower everyday and really don't like having to boil water to wash dishes, so if we were ever going back to Alessandria, and I'm was positive we'd be going back, we need to fix this bathroom issue.

    Next Page >>

    Article Published 6/8/2011


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